Is Open Borders the Biblical Stance?

Thoughts on appropriate responses to the migrant Caravan.

Imagine this: You are a parent, and a homeowner. Your home is modest. You worked ceaselessly, at a job full of frustrations, humiliations and disappointments, frittering away the best years of your life, to put your home together. You love the color scheme. You love the carpets. You love the couch, even though you may have bought it at the Salvation Army. You like your neighbors.

After years of walking on eggshells and negotiations, you’ve hammered out a modus vivendi with the folks next door and in back. You love your pets, with a walk schedule worked out where you take them to the park at the right times.

Your kid is chronically ill, and needs expensive medication daily. Because of some fluke in the insurance, you have to pay for those meds out of pocket.

One night unexpectedly, you hear a rasping noise. Someone is using a file to jimmy your lock and penetrate your home. You hear more voices. They’re coming in. You’re now victim to a home invasion. You’ve heard about this in the news.

Gangs are breaking into homes. Stealing whatever drugs are on the premises, eating all the food, throwing trash around, disrupting lives.

Your child needs drugs every day. These home invaders may steal the drugs, leaving your kid without necessary medication.

You have a gun in your nightstand. Do you use it? Me?  

This imaginary scenario helps me personally to understand why some can disagree so vehemently about borders.

On Sunday, November 25, 2018, US border agents used tear gas to hold back an on-rush of protesting asylum seekers from Central America. NPR called this event a Rorschach test. Some see the border guards as protecting the US and the rule of law, and using non-lethal methods to do so, while others view it differently.

On my Facebook (FB) page, one poster said that anyone who doesn’t support open borders “has no conscience” and is “unaware of the Bible.” One FB friend accused me of being an “evil virus” because I don’t support open borders. Another, an influential Catholic author, is accusing anyone who doesn’t support open borders of being “satanic”. Another shared a popular meme declaring, “Real Christians would be waiting for the caravan with food, water, clothing, and offering any help needed.”

I’ve been trying to talk to those calling me “satanic” and a “virus.” I try to communicate the following….

Some of us see America as our home. We assess America as valuable. We realize how very much hard work went into creating the country we’ve been blessed with. America, the America we cherish, didn’t just spring up overnight. America took long, hard work, and constant maintenance. We don’t take America for granted. We realize that like any human creation, America could be destroyed by human hands. We are not xenophobes. We value immigrants who arrive legally, learn English, and respect and support American institutions before attempting to benefit from those institutions.

We see a national border as a necessity. We support a porous border. We want people, commerce, and ideas to flow in and out. We support laws to regulate this flow. We appreciate border patrol as serving that regulation. We assess persons attempting to violate our laws, not as heroes, but as criminals, and we support border patrol doing whatever is necessary to enforce the very same laws we ourselves have had to adhere to when we crossed international borders.  

We know that there are people in the world much worse off than we are. That’s why we donate to charities and aid agencies active in poor countries. Our donations, a dollar here and a dollar there, contribute to the tens of billions of dollars Americans send to other countries every year, through both taxes and charitable donations.

At least one source claims that “Americans give around three percent of our collective income to charity – more than the citizens of any other country.”

We recognize the concept of “limited good.” We get it that scamming and milking the American system leaves less for everyone. There are poor, chronically ill, and homeless people in this country right now. I know because I am low-income, and I am chronically ill. I face many a steeple-chase in accessing adequate health care. The simple fact is that even in a rich country like the United States, resources are limited.

We recognize the need for triage. We calculate what we can do. We can’t do everything, so we ration our resources and our time.

If Cause A gets the ten dollars we can spend in a week on charity, Cause B will get nothing. We can’t change that  anymore than we can change gravity.

Many of us are Jews and Christians, and our scripture tells us that we will never be able to solve every problem. “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus taught. Deuteronomy 15:11, in the Old Testament, teaches the same. In both cases, the verse is placed in the context of triage, of making choices as to how to handle resources. In the New Testament, we read that a follower has purchased expensive perfume to honor Jesus. One of Jesus’ disciples protest. “Should we really be spending money on perfume when we could sell it and feed the poor?” Jesus condones the splurge. Yes, help the poor, he advises, but when it comes time to spend extra for a special occasion, do so. You will never eliminate poverty, even by devoting every penny to charity.

Deuteronomy tells us to take care of our poor relations and neighbors. And we do. But Deuteronomy reminds us that we will never end poverty. We can’t. We do what we can.

The Bible, and real morality, teach that “charity begins at home.” In 1 Timothy 5:4, Paul writes, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.”

This verse does not absolve believers from their duty to care for others outside the home. Jesus taught that even the Samaritan, that is, even the person most foreign to ourselves, is our neighbor. Rather, there is deep wisdom and insight into human psychology in this teaching. For humans, “the grass is always greener.” The do-gooder dilettante will find it much easier to champion victims who are only images on a TV screen, and who demand only that we bash America in a Facebook post, in order to feel righteous.

If those bashing America now for her border policies were to rise from their comfortable perches in front of their ramparts from which they shoot salvos, that is, if they were to take a break from their keyboards, they would discover that real needy people, the bum on the street corner of their nearest slum are difficult. TV images don’t smell bad. TV images don’t try to pick your pocket. TV images don’t return to drugs after you’ve invested time, money, and heartache in getting them clean. TV images don’t make choices that sabotage their would-be saviors’ best intentions. Yes. Charity begins at home. The person a truly caring person will focus on helping is nearby, and is difficult. If you can’t help the person next to you, chances are you can’t help the person behind that TV image.

I would love it if every open-borders supporter in this country now would take a day off from bashing America and Americans on Facebook and report to their local low-income area to devote their salvific efforts to American populations. I live in a low-income city. Mere feet away from where I sit, typing this document, there are men camped in a public park. It’s 42 degrees Fahrenheit right now. Those men have nothing but ragged jackets between themselves and the cold. Many of them are alcoholics, drug addicts, and mentally ill. Many are African Americans, descendants of histories of injustice. Their tragic exposure and pathetic appearances are not the whole story. These men live mere feet away from a Salvation Army rescue facility. Why do they sleep in the park? Because the Salvation Army demands that before they receive three “hots and a cot”, the homeless men renounce drugs and weapons. They must also receive treatment for any mental illnesses. These men want their booze and their weapons more than they want an inside bed. They want to refuse treatment for their schizophrenia more than they want a warmth and nourishment. That’s what it’s like helping real people, rather than TV images. You face the impasses erected by real human beings’ own bad choices.

Interestingly, many of my Facebook friends agitating for open borders don’t live in neighborhoods anything like mine. When I google their hometowns, I find that they live in towns with above-average incomes, and below-average minority populations. If their photos are any guide, I can conclude that they live in comfortable suburban homes surrounded by large yards and colorful gardens.

Is it any wonder that they and I see America differently? I don’t live in a rich enclave where illegal immigrants are the landscaper or the nanny. I and my neighbors don’t have landscapers and we don’t have nannies. We know how disruptive mass illegal immigration can be.

Over ten years ago, a local Democratic politician acknowledged to me that a much-needed, century-old hospital in my city would have to go under because it could no longer handle the burden of offering healthcare to immigrants. Why? Immigrants can claim that they have no income. They are often paid under the table. There is no record of their income. They send their salaries to their native countries, so they have no US bank accounts. Their health care tab shifts to the taxpayer. I witnessed such transactions first hand. I saw recent arrivals to the US claim to have no income and no assets and go out to the parking lot and enter brand new SUVs.

This financial drain is not the only price we pay for our flawed immigration system. In a 2007 article in City Journal, John Leo summarized then-recent research conclusions about the impact of diversity. Leo was summarizing the research of Robert Putnam, a superstar Harvard scholar, and reported that Putnam’s “five-year study shows that immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short- and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities.”

In my minority-majority city, I live the truth Putnam discovered. Inside the borders of this diverse city, people are ruder. They throw their garbage on the street rather than in a handy trash receptacle. They play music loudly. They get into fistfights. I have witnessed dozens, maybe over a hundred, street fistfights just from my own window: blacks against Hispanics, men against women, teens against men. In local stores, middleman minority Muslim shopkeepers hire Haitian strongmen to menace black and Hispanic shoppers.

When I cross the border, store security guards don’t follow me. I am not asked to surrender my backpack before I shop. Bank personnel are courteous and eager to please and treat me less like a potential felon. Drivers follow basic traffic rules. All this happens the moment I cross the border. I am the same person. The only difference is where I am standing, inside a more diverse environment or inside a less diverse one.

There’s another interesting occurrence every time I cross the border into my city. If I am given a ride, even by liberal friends, as soon as we cross the border into my city, I hear that loud, obtrusive CLICK. My driver, even among my most liberal friends, has just locked all the doors in the car.

George Borjas is himself an Hispanic immigrant. He was born in Cuba. He has shown through his research that poor, less well-educated Americans, including African Americans, suffer economically from immigration. If Jose will take that job for less than minimum wage, Joe, who must be paid on the books and be paid minimum wage, is screwed.

I think my Facebook friends who call us opponents of open borders “evil viruses” and “satanic” see America very differently. I think these people see America as guilty; as needing to be punished. As a big, fat, ATM machine that should be milked for all it has got, and then milked some more. I think they see America not as their home at all. Not as something that they worked on. Not as something that they hold dear. I think they see America as something outside themselves, just a big, bad bank whose vaults should be emptied out and then burned.

Team open borders calls us xenophobes, bigots, haters, Nazis, and accuse us of lacking compassion. They insist that they have a monopoly on compassion and Biblical values.

I always find it rather ironic when people who have more money than I do, and whose exercise of compassion is limited to insulting me on Facebook, accuse me of being a xenophobic bigot. My first job after receiving my BA was as a teacher in a tiny, remote village in an impoverished, war-torn African country. After that I taught in a small village in Asia. I lived for years without electricity or running water, and I risked deadly disease, a few of which I managed to contract and, luckily, survived.

It is not compassionate or empathetic or Christian or Biblical to urge desperate people to leave their homes and walk over a thousand miles to a border that will inevitably frustrate them. It isn’t compassionate or empathetic or Christian or Biblical to rage against one’s own nation and one’s own neighbors as “diabolical” “evil viruses.” In Leviticus, in the Old Testament, and in Jesus’ words in the New Testament, we are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. To love our neighbors, we have to start with loving ourselves.

Opening the borders is not a loving thing to do, not to others, and not to ourselves. A rational border policy is about appropriate self-care. There’s a reason parents must put on their own oxygen masks before they put on their child’s. A parent who allows himself to suffocate is not going to be able to rescue his child. A nation that invites chaos by abandoning the most basic of security can do nothing for escapees from another chaos-torn country. We can help Honduras, and the world best when we maintain our own integrity.

I invite open-borders supporters to act on their publicly announced compassion. Catholic Relief Services and numerous other aid agencies are active in Honduras and welcome donations. There are many opportunities to volunteer in Honduras. Inevitably, successful Americans who have achieved the American dream will have the most to contribute to others. That basic fact should be enough to cause open borders supporters to rethink their policy.

When we have done well for ourselves, we are better able to do well for others.